How to Have a Healthy Argument

To avoid the uglies, we had experts do fight-right makeovers. Here, the rules of engagement and how to fight fair.


For a nation at war, we sure arent very good at fighting battles on the home front, meaning those scuffles we have with our mates, co-workers, kids. We lob insults, take offense, jump in before explanations can be tendered—and nothing good comes from any of it. The fact is: Were really bad fighters. “We eat criticism until anger and frustration build up. And pretty soon its really ugly,” says University of Washington sociology professor Pepper Schwartz, PhD, author of Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex, Love, and the Sensual Years. To avoid the uglies, we had experts do fight-right makeovers. Here, the rules of engagement and how to fight fair.

1. The fight
Your mom: “I thought youd be here for the holidays.”
You: (sigh) “Yeah, well, plans do change …”
Your mom: “Your sister is happy to come over. Why do you hate being here so much?”
You: “Why do you always compare me to her?”

Where it went wrong: Moms accusatory tone started the fight, says Jennifer Jeanne Patterson, author of 52 Fights: A Newlyweds Confession—not to mention that nothing good will ever come from comparing one daughter to another. Low-blow tactics like that are as good as saying “Put up your dukes!” she says.

How to fight right: Mom should choose her words more carefully, Patterson says, and begin with a positive. “Id love to see you at the holidays” is something said out of love, and it encourages a response that acknowledges the mothers feelings. Or, the daughter could preemptively express regret and say, “I feel terrible, I really want to be there,” says Deborah Tannen, PhD, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of The Argument Culture: Stopping Americas War of Words. “Any time you can stop the argument before it starts, thats always smart.”


12 Next
Denene Millner
Last Updated: September 01, 2007

Get the latest health, fitness, anti-aging, and nutrition news, plus special offers, insights and updates from Health.com!

More Ways to Connect with Health
Advertisement